NDP tac­tics over Hy­dro get­ting old

Winnipeg Sun - - COMMENT -

Man­i­toba’s Op­po­si­tion NDP thinks if they keep re­peat­ing the line that the pro­vin­cial Tories have a se­cret plan to pri­va­tize Man­i­toba Hy­dro, peo­ple will start to be­lieve it.

In re­al­ity, there are no plans to sell off the prov­ince’s largest Crown cor­po­ra­tion and when you drill down into the is­sue from a pub­lic pol­icy per­spec­tive, there really isn’t much of an eco­nomic ar­gu­ment for do­ing so.

Pol­i­tics is of­ten about man­u­fac­tur­ing fear and in this case, the goal of the NDP is to cre­ate fear in the minds of Man­i­to­bans that the Tories have al­ways planned to pri­va­tize Hy­dro and given the chance, will even­tu­ally do so.

They had some suc­cess sell­ing that nar­ra­tive dur­ing the 2011 pro­vin­cial elec­tion, when they ac­cused then-tory leader Hugh Mcfadyen of hav­ing a “se­cret agenda” to sell Hy­dro. The party ar­gued that since the Tories “promised” Man­i­to­bans they wouldn’t sell the for­mer Man­i­toba Tele­phone Sys­tem in the 1990s and did so any­way, that the Tories would do the same with Hy­dro.

The fear mon­ger­ing worked at the time.

The truth is, the Tories never did prom­ise not to pri­va­tize MTS. That’s a re­write of his­tory.

More im­por­tantly, there was a strong eco­nomic ar­gu­ment at the time to un­load the Crown cor­po­ra­tion be­cause the telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions in­dus­try was chang­ing rapidly and was mov­ing into a com­pet­i­tive mar­ket­place. It re­quired large cap­i­tal in­vest­ments to re­main com­pet­i­tive and it wasn’t the role of govern­ment to in­vest tax dol­lars into that mar­ket­place. His­tory has shown the de­ci­sion was the right one.

Those eco­nomic con­di­tions do not ex­ist for Hy­dro, which op­er­ates in a mo­nop­o­lis­tic en­vi­ron­ment. Hy­dro’s man­date is to pro­vide Man­i­to­bans and lo­cal in­dus­try with af­ford­able and re­li­able elec­tric­ity. It does that in part by ex­port­ing a size­able por­tion of its en­ergy out­side the prov­ince, but the pol­icy ob­jec­tive is to main­tain a lo­cal, cost-ef­fec­tive power grid. Hy­dro does not com­pete with other com­pa­nies for elec­tric­ity sales in Man­i­toba and there is noth­ing on the hori­zon that would change that.

Not­with­stand­ing the mis­man­age­ment of Hy­dro by the pre­vi­ous NDP govern­ment, Man­i­to­bans are well served by that cur­rent model.

Which means there are no ra­tio­nal ar­gu­ments to pri­va­tize it.

That won’t stop the NDP, though, from con­tin­u­ing to try to scare peo­ple into be­liev­ing the Pal­lis­ter govern­ment is se­cretly plan­ning to sell off Hy­dro.

It’s a strat­egy that may have worked in 2011, but it’s get­ting aw­fully tired to­day.

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